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Past tense

Level: intermediate

Past tense

There are two tenses in English – past and present.

The past tense in English is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

There are four past tense forms in English:

Past simple: I worked
Past continuous: I was working
Past perfect: I had worked
Past perfect continuous: I had been working

We use these forms:

  • to talk about the past:

He worked at McDonald's. He had worked there since July.
He was working at McDonald's. He had been working there since July.

  • to refer to the present or future in hypotheses:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.

This use is very common in wishes:

I wish it wasn't so cold.

and in conditions with if:

He could get a new job if he really tried.
If Jack was playing, they would probably win.

For hypotheses, wishes and conditions in the past, we use the past perfect:

It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost?
I wish I hadn't spent so much money last month.
I would have helped him if he had asked.

and also to talk about the present in a few polite expressions:

Excuse me, I was wondering if this was the train for York.
I just hoped you would be able to help me.

Past tense 1


Past tense 2



Please it not clear to me why I should use "is" and past tense in the following context (where chapter x has already been written):
In chapter x concept y "is presented".

I was expecting: In chapter x concept y "was presented".

Hello Baruwanku

I can't say for sure without knowing the context, but, for example, if this is the introduction to a book, since it is explaining the contents of the book, which still exists, the present tense makes sense. If you were explaining an event that happened in the past, then the past tense would be better.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Help with the tenses please- "Back in college, i came to know she had a boyfriend who she had been dating for a while"
- is this sentence correct considering the could is still dating?

Hello Anubhav

That is grammatically correct. It indicates that she had the boyfriend in the past (when you were in college), but it doesn't say anything about the moment of speaking.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter & Kirk,
I always get confused using the verb think in past form.
Ex- I thought Alisha was still with me that morning.
I was thinking Alisha was still with me that morning. Could you please explain me the meaning of these two sentences and when to use "thought" and "was thinking" in a sentence with example.

Hi jitu_jaga,

When we express a point of view or an opinion we use the simple form, whether in the present or past:

I think this is a great film!

I thought he was very nice last night.


When we want to use 'think' to mean 'consider' then we can use the continuous form:

I'm thinking about buying a new car.

She was thinking of changing her job, but in the end she decided to stay where she was.


Occasionally, you can find examples of the continous form used to emphasise an opinion which changed, but this is quite unusual:

I was thinking it was a good film until I saw the ending.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Dear Peter. Have a nice day..

He smelt strongly of rum.
Is smelt a verb in this sentence.

Thank you

Hello sumanasc

Yes, it is a past simple form. You can find this kind of information in a good dictionary (follow the link).

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

I need to know the verbs in the following sentences. I think they are, smelt, filled, squawking and circling. please let me know whether I am correct.

The air smelt of wood smoke and my ears were filled with the sound of squawking birds circling above.
Thank you